welcoming the stranger

The Divine Story Knows No Borders

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Importantly, in the Old Testament, Israel was told to rehearse its story of redemption in its feasts. That story was to spur them on to faithfulness, but also to motivate them to be open to outsiders. They were not to repeat the actions of their oppressors in their engagement with outsiders, but be accepting and helping (e.g., Exodus 22:21; Deuteronomy 5:12-15; 24:17-22).

Getting to Root Causes

Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock
Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock

EVERY TIME I travel from Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, to Dohuk, Iraq, my drivers point to the same bridge. This, they say, is where ISIS was stopped by U.S. air power, just 15 miles from Erbil. It is a vital reminder that Kurdistan has twice been a safe haven: in the 1991 aftermath of the first Gulf War, to protect the Kurds from Saddam Hussein, and again last year when ISIS was at the city gates.

When I look on the Nineveh Plain just south of Kurdistan, it’s hard not to recall Cyrus the Great, who once conquered this entire part of the world. The book of Isaiah recounts God’s words to the mighty king, a nonbeliever, one who didn’t follow the God of Israel: “For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me” (emphasis added).

The chaos and violence in this region continues to drive people from their homes. Currently, Kurdistan is the temporary “home” of 1.1 million people fleeing ISIS. Most are people of faith—Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis. The ripple effects spread out to refugee camps from Jordan to Germany.

Many U.S. Christians don’t think of God when it comes to geopolitics. We sometimes reduce Christ “the Lord of all” to Christ “our personal savior.” We might not be comfortable with the idea that if Christ is truly sovereign, then that includes our global politics.

As people of faith, we never give up hope, even in the violent situation in the Middle East, which promises to get worse before it gets better. Here are three steps you can take to address the ISIS crisis and its violent ripple effects:

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Christian Groups Censure GOP Over Syrian Refugee Crisis

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Christian groups are strongly condemning the anti-refugee rhetoric coming from top GOP leadership this week, reports POLITICO.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, many in the U.S. media speculated that one or more of the attackers had entered France as refugees from Syria, prompting state senators, governors, and even U.S. presidential candidates for the GOP to vow to close U.S. borders to Syrian refugees altogether.

These statements are being decried by Christians nationwide, including those with more historically conservative positions on immigration and foreign policy. 

Rev. Jim Wallis Puts Politicians on Notice – Mass Deportations will lead to Mass Civil Disobedience

                                                                                        FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Michael Mershon, Director of Advocacy and Communications

Email: mmershon@sojo.net

Phone: 202-745-4654

 

Rev. Jim Wallis Puts Politicians on Notice – Mass Deportations will lead to Mass Civil Disobedience

November 5, 2015

The Global Refugee Crisis Is a Moral Test for All of Us

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Western claims to stand for human dignity and human rights usually look pretty hollow whenever a major refugee crisis hits. That is what is happening now, as millions of refugees seek asylum in Europe — and mainly run into closed doors and cold shoulders.

The current crisis is a grave one. According to Amanda Taub, 19 million people today are refugees. They come from all over, though today especially from Africa and the Middle East. Four million have fled Syria since 2011. They are making global headlines as they surge into Europe, which is for many just the latest stop on a desperate odyssey.

They are dying in disturbing numbers — in rickety boats, sealed trucks and squalid refugee dumping grounds. They are not wanted where they come from and not wanted where they are going.

In Europe and In the U.S. — We Must Welcome the Stranger

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The pope’s teachings and his deeds have inspired people to put aside their differences and to work together for a common good. We hope that this momentum will carry over to the debates on immigration. We must work together push back against the hateful anti-immigrant messaging coming from some of our elected officials and candidates for office, and draw on the moral high ground we find in our faith and Scriptures. Including Matthew 25.

Beyond the need for broad-based legislative reform, ordinary people and communities of faith in the United States can also make a difference on an individual and family level. Just as the pope has called on European Catholic churches to “welcome the stranger” in their own parishes and homes, American churches, synagogues, mosques, and even individual homes should take up that challenge as well. It’s time for people in the United States and Europe to learn what it really means to welcome the stranger.

'Are You the People That Help Immigrants?'

Open church door, Dutourdumonde Photography / Shutterstock.com
Open church door, Dutourdumonde Photography / Shutterstock.com

Zach Szmara, Pastor of The Bridge Community Church in Logansport, Ind., was on a conference call when a young man entered the church. He put the call on hold to walk out of the office and meet him. In broken English, the man said, "Are you the people that help immigrants?" The man had driven more than 20 miles because he heard rumors of a church that loved the stranger.

Szmara said, "In that moment I was both humbled and convicted. I was humbled that our small church had such a reputation. Yet I was convicted that it was only very recently that I could answer 'yes' to the burning question of this young immigrant who came to me."

"I have lived overseas, and there my eyes could easily see the marginalized and the stranger in my midst. But at home in the states, I almost missed it, and almost missed how God has enriched my life because of it," Szmara continued.

The issue of immigration has dominated the headlines for much of this year. As Christians, we believe that – regardless of where we each may stand on the political spectrum – God’s heart for the immigrant is clear. In fact, the Hebrew word for an immigrant appears 92 times in the Old Testament alone, and the New Testament says in no uncertain terms that however we, as Christians, treat the stranger in our midst, is how we are treating Jesus himself.

Reviving the Sanctuary Movement

Family takes shelter. Image courtesy Nelosa/shutterstock.com
Family takes shelter. Image courtesy Nelosa/shutterstock.com

Unknown to most, sanctuary is actually one of the most ancient traditions we have as a people of faith. In the late Roman Empire, fugitives found refuge in early Christian churches; in medieval England, churches protected accused wrongdoers; and in the years before the Civil War, people of faith organized the Underground Railroad to help slaves flee the South.  In the 1980s, nearly 500 congregations practiced sanctuary in an attempt to shelter the hundreds of Central Americans fleeing brutal violence in Guatemala and El Salvador.

Currently, the Sanctuary Movement allows members of congregations who are facing deportation to reside within the sacred space of a church, synagogue, or mosque in order to avoid immediate deportation from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Although the ICE is not legally banned from entering churches or schools, custom is to avoid such sensitive areas unless a suspected terrorist or dangerous felon is involved.

Today there are currently 5 active sanctuary cases, along with 30 congregations who are offering sanctuary in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Washington, Maine, and Oregon. The Sanctuary Movement is important because it breaks down the polarized, politicized, and dehumanized aspects of immigration reform and looks instead to Christ as a model for loving one’s neighbor.

From the Archives: September 1984

EL SALVADOR'S war has already claimed 40,000 lives. But our government has taken the stance that Salvadoran “illegals” are economic, not political, refugees, and therefore have no right to be here. Despite stories and statistics to the contrary, our government doesn’t believe they have a “well-founded fear of persecution” that would entitle them to political asylum here. Meanwhile refugees keep coming with the same story of their government’s organized killing and repression. Where are our ears to hear and to respond? ...

It’s an upside-down world these days. But a right-side-up world happens when I lay down my life, risk myself out of love for my brothers and sisters. I am not to close my heart to them, or to anyone. This earth is a sacred place—it and all the life it contains. We have created refuges to protect the life that we in our blindness destroy: bird refuges, endangered species lists, houses for battered women, places safe from violence. At one time this country was a refuge for people fleeing persecution. Where now is the refuge for those people?

“You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for them as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

Stacey Merkt was a lay worker at Casa Romero, a halfway house for refugees in San Benito, Texas, when this article appeared.

Image: refugee word cloud, Mattz90 / Shutterstock

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'The Stranger' Shows Realities of U.S.' Broken Immigration System

Screenshot from 'The Stranger' trailer. Courtesy thestrangerfilm.org.
Screenshot from 'The Stranger' trailer. Courtesy thestrangerfilm.org.

'The Stranger' offers just a few illustrations of the millions of lives that are negatively impacted by our immigration laws. The personal stories of immigrants who are facing the unintended consequences of our countries broken immigration policies are often left out of the national debate. The strength of the film lies in the fact that it puts a face to the issue of immigration and highlights the moral responsibility we have as people of faith to respond. 

 

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